The clopping of hooves along loamy clay soil put Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell counties on the map. However, you don’t need to saddle up or be an equestrian enthusiast to have a blast horsing around South Carolina’s equine epicenter. When the azaleas are in bloom, it’s playtime in South Carolina’s Thoroughbred Country — the swath of the Palmetto State off of Interstate 20, just east of Augusta dotted by charming small towns.
Munch on ballpark franks or pulled pork sandwiches while catching the Augusta GreenJackets in action. This will be the Low-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves’ fourth season at beautiful SRP Park overlooking the Savannah River. The Crowne Plaza hotel is a bunt away from the stadium and while you’re there you can explore North Augusta’s Greeneway Trail, a repurposed railroad right-of-way. The paved walking and biking path is 9.2 miles and runs through neighborhoods, natural environs, and alongside the riverfront area. The first homestand of the season sees the Columbia Fireflies flit into town for a 6-game homestand from May 4-9, 2021. Notable GreenJackets alumni who went on to become big league stars include D-Backs starter Madison Bumgarner, five-time All-Star and three time World Series champ Jon Lester and Red Sox legend Dustin Pedroia.
An Electric Bike Ride
Glide back through time with Pedego Aiken’s guided “Triple-H” tour, as you explore the history, homes and horse country that make this equine epicenter tick. Notable stops on the 12-mile e-bike ride led by a local historian include: the grounds of The Willcox hotel — a beacon of high society for over a century, its gilded guest list has included cosmetics queen Elizabeth Arden, entertainer Bing Crosby and British Prime Minister Churchill; Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum, the Whitney Polo Field and the bucolic splendor of the canopy of live oaks along South Boundary Avenue. Tours run every Saturday and are $40/person. Book online or call 803 226-9007.
Hit The Links
The golf exhibit at the Aiken County Historical Museum, housed in a former winter colony mansion, provides a glimpse into the Palmetto Club, a favorite haunt of Harry Vardon, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and presidents Eisenhower and Taft. The private club’s course is designed by Alister MacKenzie — the same architect who built Augusta National. But during Masters Week when the PGA’s finest are vying for the green jacket, from Sunday, Apr. 4- Monday, Apr. 12, 2021 the public can play for a $300 green fee which includes lunch.
The Aiken Golf Club, over a century old, is a hidden gem. The daily weekday (Monday-Thursday) round rate is just $25 if you walk or $35 with a cart. Its sister course Cedar Creek Golf Club built in 1991 is also a great value with a weekday walking rate of $22 or $38 to ride. During Masters Week rates rise to $120 and $100 per round respectively.
For golfers with a preference for a stay-and-play option, Houndslake Country Club, a 27-hole layout designed by “Gentleman Joe” Lee is your spot. The 30 room Inn is right on the golf course sandwiched by two fairways. A must play is The River Golf Club designed by Jim Fazio. This stellar lake strewn track routed through picturesque wetlands features smooth rolling Mini-Verde Bermuda grass greens and measures 6,847 yards from the back tees.
Paddle the South Fork of The Edisto River
Snaking over 250 miles from South Carolinas’ Sandhills to the Atlantic Ocean tidelands, the Edisto River is the country’s longest free-flowing backwater river. The Bamberg County Chamber of Commerce will provide free shuttle service on the following Saturdays: April 17 (Zig Zag Landing), May 8 (Claudes Landing), June 12 (Ness Landing), July 10 (Bobcat Landing), August 14 (Brabham Landing), September 11 (Brabham Landing), and October 9 (Kill Kare Landing). Participants unload their kayaks at the launch site and then follow the shuttle driver to the take-out where they’ll leave their cars. They then hitch a ride back to the put-in and its paddle time! Bring your own boat or you can rent one from Cope Kayak. For Bamberg float trip reservations contact Jerry Bell (email firstname.lastname@example.org, 803 300-1972).
Make your kayak or canoe trip an overnighter. Barnwell State Park near Blackville has 25 campsites and five cabins just 100 yards from the upper lake. They’re outfitted with a fridge, stove, microwave, satellite T.V, WiFi and a barbecue grill. Botany buffs will dig the adjacent Dogwood Interpretive trail, a. 1.5-mile trek with I.D. markers pointing out the variety of plant life. Cabin reservations require a two-night minimum stay. You can also spend a night under the stars at Aiken State Park where they have both tent and R.V. camping options. Bring your fishing gear and target bream, bass or catfish on the park’s four lakes. Non-motorized fishing boat rentals are available on site for $15/day.
Jazz Up Your Calendar
Time for Three, an Emmy winning classically trained string trio, featuring two violins and a double bass is set to play on the lawn of Aiken’s Green Boundary Club on May 22, 2021. Another hot ticket is The Joye Of Jazz taking place June 6, 2021 on the grounds of The Willcox Hotel and headlined by clarinet virtuoso Evan Christopher and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, an original member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.
Save the date: Apr. 29, 2022. That’s when the Etherredge Center at USC Aiken proudly presents three-time Grammy winner Branford Marsalis. The virtuoso saxophonist, band leader and raconteur, first entered the limelight playing alongside his brother trumpeter Wynton Marsalis in the 1980s before going on to fronting the Tonight Show Band from 1992-1995. In 2020 Marsalis’s music provided the soundtrack to the movie Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a biopic on the legendary blues singer starring Viola Davis and Chad Boseman. The Joey Calderazzo Duo will open for the jazz great.
The poundcake at Nelson’s Wee Bake in Denmark is worth the trip alone. The small-town bakery is only open Thursdays through Saturday, and cranks out mouthwatering caramel apple, orange, blueberry, lemon poppy seed and sour cream flavors. After devouring a few slices and satisfying your sweet tooth, it’s time to let your eyes do the feasting. Fans of the visual arts and Coca-Cola alike will be delighted to stop by the Jim Harrison Gallery on South Main Street. The late artist, who was awarded the Order of the Palmetto in 2008, is best known for his nostalgic advertising art which incorporates coke imagery into scenes of rural Americana.
For more unique finds you’re bound to find a keepsake or two for your collection while browsing the three floors of antique treasures at the Carolina Connection. Another Denmark institution well worth ducking into is Brooker’s True Value & Gifts, a locally owned hardware store that has been selling a little bit of everything since 1903. Next, explore the majestic nature scape of the Cathedral Bay Heritage Preserve filled with columns of pond cypress with wide buttressed bases.
Taking In Aiken
Two-hour Aiken Trolley Tours depart the Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum on Saturdays at 10 a.m. Highlights of the route include the Civil War’s Battle of Aiken and a stop to walk through the gorgeous grounds of Hopelands Gardens where many outdoor local weddings take place under a canopy of century-old oaks, deodar cedars and magnolias.
You can easily spend a whole afternoon hiking through the 70 miles of trails in Hitchcock Woods on paths shared by horseback riders. Annual events held in the largest privately-owned urban forest in the country include the Aiken Horse Show, Earth Day, Festival of the Woods and the Blessing of the Hounds.
There’s more woodland wonderland a half hour south of the city at the Audubon’s Silver Bluff Sanctuary open daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. More than 200 bird species have been spotted here so pack your binoculars and keep an eye out for Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Great Crested Flycatchers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Cooper’s Hawks and Wood Storks, too. The wading birds tend to hangout in the foraging ponds here from July through September.
(Photos courtesy of Thoroughbred Country, S.C.)